What Do We Need to Know about the “Monsanto Protection” Rider?

Via on Mar 28, 2013

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Yesterday, I read and edited Kevin Macku’s article on the recent HR 933 legislation and was saddened but eager to get this information out to our readers. Today, post some negative responses, including one from Waylon Lewis, I decided to dig in a little deeper and read the bill for myself. Here is what I learned:

What does the passing of signed a spending billHR 933, mean for us as concerned consumers?

I decided I’d sit and read the bill before I wrote this up. It’s hefty, I’ll admit, but part of our responsibility as an informed electorate is not just to vote, but to keep careful watch on the choices our public servants make.

After reading the bill, and reading a few articles reporting on the subject, it is my belief that our best interests have not been served by this legislation.

1. Section 735 of HR 933, titled the “Farmer Assurance Provision” and often referred to as the “Monsanto Protection Act,” by its opponents, grants temporary deregulation status of GMOs.

“Sec. 735. In the event that a determination of non-regulated status made pursuant to section 411 of the Plant Protection Act is or has been invalidated or vacated, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon request by a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer, immediately grant temporary permit(s) or temporary deregulation in part, subject to necessary and appropriate conditions consistent with section 411(a) or 412(c) of the Plant Protection Act, which interim conditions shall authorize the movement, introduction, continued cultivation, commercialization and other specifically enumerated activities and requirements, including measures designed to mitigate or minimize potential adverse environmental effects, if any, relevant to the Secretary’s evaluation of the petition for non-regulated status, while ensuring that growers or other users are able to move, plant, cultivate, introduce into commerce and carry out other authorized activities in a timely manner: Provided, That all such conditions shall be applicable only for the interim period necessary for the Secretary to complete any required analyses or consultations related to the petition for non-regulated status: Provided further, That nothing in this section shall be construed as limiting the Secretary’s authority under section 411, 412 and 414 of the Plant Protection Act.”

In effect, the government is now barred from preventing the sale or planting of any genetically modified or genetically engineered seeds. The deregulation is temporary and lasts through September 2013. Though it is named as something as a protection for farmers, it has very little impact on individual farmers, as current regulations do not allow for farmers’ crops of GE plants to be destroyed, even when found to be in violation of USDA standards. This rider protects the creators and distributors of genetically engineered seeds, far more than the farmers themselves.

To reiterate, even if tomorrow we were to discover that the genetically engineered products had harmful effects, nothing can be done to stop the distribution or planting, or hold the companies in question responsible for those effects.

2. The language used in this rider was drafted by Monsanto and Sen. Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri.

While initially that might seem shocking, it is fairly standard for relevant industry experts and organizations to be involved in assisting with drafting the language used for legislation. In this instance, however, it is cause for concern when the company in question has the most to gain from the passing of this bill. Also noteworthy, Monsanto is the largest contributor to Roy Blunt’s campaign.

Not all of our senators believe that this type of provision is a good thing. In fact, according to New York Daily News:

Opposing the inclusion of the rider was Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.), who told Politico that the deal worked out with Monsanto was simply bad policy. “These provisions are giveaways, pure and simple, and will be a boon worth millions of dollars to a handful of the biggest corporations in this country,” Tester said.

 3. Not only does the six-month deregulation benefit Monsanto in the short run, but it prevents them from being prosecuted by federal courts, even if health risks from GMOs are discovered in the future.

To put this another way, imagine that a product that the rest of the civilized world has already deemed a potential health risk was deregulated and allowed for a six-month period of time. We have chosen to deliberately limit our government’s ability to hold the makers and distributors of these products accountable should health or environmental risks arise. This, to me, is the biggest concern with this rider. Neither the Secretary of Agriculture nor the USDA, nor the federal courts system has any recourse should problems arise due to the deregulation of these genetically engineered seeds and plants.

{The Plant Protection Act referred to sheds more light on exactly what can and cannot be addressed during the deregulation period. Thanks Paul!}

 4. Despite organized and vocal opposition from his constituents, President Obama signed this bill into law on Tuesday.

One of the beautiful things about our system of government is that no one holds all the keys. Yes, legislation must pass through both houses. Yes, there are a multitude of people involved in the construction of even the simplest bill. Obama does not have the power of line item veto, which is unfortunate in situations such as this.

But the fact remains that the end line for a bill to become federal law is the president’s signature.

While Congress can deny funding to an executive order, no act passed by Congress is valid without the president’s consent. It is easy as private citizens to pick and choose the issues that matter most to us. I do not envy the president’s position of having this rider tacked on to such important legislation. The fact remains that we have trusted him to have the final say on accepting or rejecting the bills that come before him, and many of us feel that he made a choice that does not represent us.

“More than 250,000 voters signed a petition opposing the provision. And Food Democracy Now protesters even took their fight straight to Obama, protesting in front of the White House against Section 735 of the bill. He signed it anyway.”

We should also take time to see how our representatives in Congress voted. Obama may not be eligible for a third term, but if you are unhappy with how you were represented here, take note.

5. Most importantly, we should realize that this is not the end of the line on this issue, even though a dangerous precedent has been set by this legislation.

If this matters to you, be heard.

 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

~ Margaret Mead

 

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About Kate Bartolotta

Kate Bartolotta is the strongest girl in the world. She is the love child of a pirate and a roller derby queen. She hails from the second star to the right. She doesn't know how to behave with all the apples and ibexes. She doesn't suffer from her eight million freckles, she loves them! Like a rolling stone, Kate gathers no moss. Kate loves kale, being barefoot, Dr. Seuss, singing too loudly, gallivanting, palindromes, blackberries and has far too many books for her own good. When she's not writing, you can find her practicing yoga, running in the woods, playing with her kids, devouring a book, planting dandelions, changing the world and doing her dishes. Kate does not play the accordion. She is a massage therapist, writer and a compassionate friend to all. This year Kate aspires to finally give up on learning to knit and will instead spend that time putting a little bit more of her heart on the page. Connect with Kate on Facebook and Twitter

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19 Responses to “What Do We Need to Know about the “Monsanto Protection” Rider?”

  1. Greg says:

    The dirty trick here is that, for Obama to veto this bill, he would have to shut down the government. Even with the signatures on the petition, did you really expect him to do that over this? You acknowledge his lack of line-item veto, and hint that this was "important legislation", but I think you're leaving out the important piece of what exactly this bill was in.

    • Yes, and I did link up more info about the spending bill up top. The onus is on us here to be more involved and aware of what's going on. We need to be aware of these issues as they arise, and not wait until after the fact.

  2. paul says:

    Thanks for this. It doesn't prohibit the courts at all though, it just makes irrelevant any regulation, or order to regulate, they might issue. Boring as it is, reading the Plant Protection Act http://www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/plant_pest… helped me to understand this unfortunately acronymed (though to some accurate) provision.

    I think it may be more a "market stability" measure than a direct benefit to Monsanto. There is a case argued but without ruling in the supreme court about second-use of patented seeds, http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/11-796 has a discussion on the case Bowmann Vs. Monsanto (Monsanto prohibits the re-using seed, Bowmann did anyways). If the court makes a strong ruling one way or the other, I wonder if that would be interpreted as a regulation, sending the market into panicked head-scratching as to what to do next (who can sell and buy, how new products are to be addressed), which a measure such as this would help calm. I wrote another equally unconvincing conspiracy in a comment on kmaku's piece. :)

    • Thanks Paul! Some of the discussion within the notes in the bill itself referred to federal courts being limited (in regard to things that would have been actionable under the Plant Protection act before) in being able to place any restrictions once this went into play. Thanks for adding the Plant Protection Act!

      What concerns me is that there is no provision for intervention or accountability here if it's found that there is harm (environmental or health-related) during the 6 month deregulation.

      • paul says:

        You're welcome and thank you! I'm still not seeing that rather than just ignoring the courts, it limits them or shields permit holders from action post-deregulation, but the point at which GM gets me completely confuddled has arrived so I must put it down for some days, and come back to it later. Peace!

        • Here's where being accustomed to reading legalese helps. I've done farm work and edited legal documents. Far more shoveling of bullsh*t in the latter.

          What it does say is that the Secretary is *not* limited in dealing with anything that falls under sections 411, 412 and 413 of the Plant Protection Act. So then what it does not say, but allows for, is limiting the Secretary's ability to address or place restrictions on anything that falls out of the scope of those three sections. Any unforseen issues that arise would require new legislation (or the deregulation period to be over) in order to be addressed.

          The Secretary can use the 6 month period to examine data and make a report on recommendations for long range deregulation, but cannot limit any sale, distribution, planting or production until the deregulation period is up.

    • kmacku says:

      And to be fair, I found your conspiracy quite convincing! I cited it to Kate when we were talking about both her and my article. The conversation started by you and Rebecca has been one of the most helpful dialogues in this whole situation (and I recommend everyone go track it down).

      • paul says:

        I'm glad you found it helpful, and thanks for bring the issue to ej, :)

        • Rebecca says:

          Any interest in collaborating on an article? You can ask me all the science related questions you like, and I'll do my best to provide answers based on peer-reviewed journal articles (with links to abstracts and full articles, when possible)…then you can take it away with all the political conspirings you like (I'm no good at that bit)! I'm not trying to change minds; I'm just trying to make sure the minds that make noise have their ducks in a row!

          • paul says:

            Hi Rebecca, I find myself much more motivated to write in reaction (ala, in comments) than otherwise (it's easier; there are too many ducks), but I if I am inspired to put something together over the next weeks I'll send it for any additions or corrections- thanks for the offer! I hope it's open to Kate and Kevin as well, they being more likely to pull something together, but i'm at paul[at]priyar.org, if so inclined :)

            I would be very interested to read about the state of GM for medicines, about which I know nothing. I would think they are something entirely different from the agricultural GMO, being of a more limited (and sterile) origin and use.

  3. BoulderSam says:

    This is the first time I heard that this rider is only good for half a year. Why would they have gone to the lengths to pass it for that short amount of time? To set a precedent? Hopefully it will backfire on them, and the outrage caused by its passing will result in organized blockage of any future attempts.

    • I think the precedent is one issue. Another issue that hasn't really been talked about much is the basic mechanics of seed-bearing plants. We aren't talking about GMO plants being grown in a lab. Seeds end up in compost, soil, ground water, eaten by birds and small animals and transferred elsewhere and potentially cross-contaminating other non-GMO plantings. I won't pretend I have the slightest idea how this will affect farmers, and we do not know definitively that it would cause problems, but it's worth adding to the discussion. I'd love to hear more on this from people with greater agricultural knowledge.

  4. lisa says:

    thank you kate for this balanced piece.

  5. Linda V. Lewis says:

    Thanks for reducing 14 lines of legal non-language to 2! It is a dangerous precedent! Still, Obama has accomplished a great deal in the face of so much Republican and corporate opposition.

  6. mareynolds says:

    Thanks for posting this. Some sites right after the passage were saying the rider was introduced by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-MD, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. She responded on her website saying she didn't support it (http://www.mikulski.senate.gov/media/pressrelease/3-28-2013.cfm), and I don't think this will get by her again.

    "Senator Mikulski understands the anger over this provision. She didn't put the language in the bill and doesn't support it either.

    "It was originally part of the Agriculture Appropriations bill that the House Appropriations Committee reported in June 2012, and it became part of the joint House-Senate agreement completed in the Fall of 2012 before Senator Mikulski became Appropriations Chairwoman.

    "That agreement was not reopened when the Agriculture bill and several others were included in the Continuing Appropriations Act to prevent a government shutdown.

    "Senator Mikulski has a strong food safety record. She has supported a bill requiring labeling of genetically engineered fish, an amendment to the Farm Bill that allows states to require labeling of edible foods and beverages for sale that contain genetically engineered ingredients, and called for labeling of cloned animals or their progeny.

    "As Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski's first responsibility was to prevent a government shutdown. That meant she had to compromise on many of her own priorities to get a bill through the Senate that the House would pass. She will continue to fight for a regular and timely Appropriations process and other valuable priorities, including food safety."

    Hopefully it won't get by Obama again either.

    And it now looks like Sen. Roy Blunt, R-MO (where Monsanto is headquartered) is holding the smoking gun.

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